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Panelists at the SAE 2014 Convergence event predict that vehicles of model year 2054 will be extremely connected and will largely drive themselves, but dealing with urban gridlock will be a key concern.

Congestion, autonomy, and connectivity key issues for MY 2054 cars

Flying cars got short shrift. Panelists at SAE 2014 Convergence instead predicted that vehicles of model year 2054 will be extremely connected and will largely drive themselves. Dealing with urban gridlock was also a key concern during the session.

The impact of population growth and urbanization are critical factors that tomorrow’s vehicle designers will have to consider, according to the “40 Year Look Ahead” discussion. World populations are soaring, especially in India and China, where vehicle ownership is also expected to skyrocket. Much of this population growth will occur in mega cities with millions of people who will want the mobility that comes with owning a car.

“There were 1.01 billion vehicles worldwide in 2010,” said Partha Goswami of General Motors. “There could be 2.2 billion in 2054.”

Autonomous vehicles will play a role in reducing the likelihood of extreme gridlock. They will help reduce accidents and communicate to reduce congestion. However, there’s concern that unless several people ride in most vehicles, traffic jams will become more of an issue.

“We wonder whether autonomous vehicles will resolve our highway needs,” said James Sayer of the University of Michigan Transportation Institute. “Unless we have shared vehicles, how will we move all the people?”

Those designing autonomous vehicles face many challenges. Technology is perhaps the smallest obstacle. Liability will be a primary barrier for corporations, but ethics will be a somewhat unexpected factor for design teams.

“We feel technology is not the limiting factor; we believe legal and ethical aspects will be primary limiting factors,” said Nigel Francis of Michigan Economic Development Corp. “Sometimes drivers have to decide between hitting a child or a car. That decision will be made by a computer.”

Connectivity will evolve quite significantly over the next four decades, said many prognosticators.

“In the future, cars will be connected to a complete traffic system,” said Marc Rosenmayr of Hella Electronics. “People will call and five to 10 minutes later, a vehicle with no driver will be there.”

When driverless vehicles carry passengers around, those passengers will probably spend a fair amount of their time on line. The need for connectivity is already transforming the industry, having become a critical factor for younger car buyers.

“Generation Y will require that cars be part of the Internet of things,” said Hans Adlkofer of Infineon Technologies North America. “Car buyers used to look at the number of cylinders and how fast the car could go from 0 to 100 km/h. This generation is not looking at that; they want connectivity.”

The twin trends of connectivity and autonomy will intensify a trend that’s already underway. New features and functions will be increasingly based on software.

“We’re shifting from a hardware domain to a software domain; there will be 300 million lines of code on a car in the relatively near future,” Francis said.

Adlkofer noted that electrified powertrains will be dominant by the second half of this century. Internal combustion engines may be running on empty by then.

“There are predictions that fossil fuel sources will last another 50 years,” Rosenmayr said.

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